Wednesday 28 July 2010

Kill the BBC: Part two

No I don’t want to kill the BBC, it was an involuntary shudder when the reaction three years ago to removing the RPI link to the license fee was “disappointing” from the director-general, and “catastrophic” from the unions; this despite a guaranteed increase in the fee for the following six years - you can always trust the unions for a balanced response. I find the left-wing bias tiresome but I recognise it as an inevitable result for any publicly funded body immune from economic reality. It’s not dissimilar to the media studies teacher who despises your middle class background safe in the knowledge that before too long you’ll be paying his wages.

The problem for the BBC is that its popular programming could just as easily be shown by other broadcasters, and this invites the query as to why the remainder should be funded by the taxpayer at all. Once you list all the quality television produced elsewhere and the not so good from the state broadcaster you begin to realise that its only real purpose is as a mechanism for Government initiatives, such as the digital switchover, and to act as a counterweight to the excesses of Sky and ITV. This doesn’t require a £3 billion budget.

I like the BBC, but our assessment should be based not on whether we like what we watch, but on whether it is right for others to pay. When good, it innovates, leading the way for the commercial sector to follow. It still provides valuable public service broadcasting and it has a role as a standard-bearer for British television, but it has become bloated, stifling private enterprise operating in the same sphere and yes, that is a bad thing. You’d have to be “immune from economic reality” to think otherwise.

Tuesday 27 July 2010


More tinkering with my blog on the weekend and for a short while I hit something approaching euphoria, helped along by a large slice of vanilla cheesecake, before later concluding that actually the header still looks a bit shit, I don’t really like the Georgia font and reaching the shocking conclusion that maybe a grey colour scheme isn’t terribly exciting; I am no nearer to layout nirvana. I really must get out more.

Instead I stayed in and watched Sherlock, a modern re-working of Sherlock Holmes. I’ve never warmed to the Baker Street detective but it was a terrific opener from Steven Moffat. It’ll be interesting to see whether the remaining two episodes maintain the standard but given that one is written by Mark Gatiss, who along with Moffat created this series for the BBC, I will be holding my breath and hoping for the best. Gatiss was unfortunately responsible for the duff episode in the recent and otherwise excellent series of Doctor Who, which coincidentally in a separate episode dredged up one of my least favourite quotes:
When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
-- Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle must have rather liked this quote as he seems to have used it or a variation thereof a number of times and, judging from how often it makes an appearance elsewhere, his fans are rather fond of it too. Holmes, I’ll assume but I could easily be wrong, makes his statement to illustrate a point rather than pronounce; it’s a shame therefore that his following have taken it so literally. In Doctor Who it is a child but it didn’t stop me from rolling my eyes and adding “or there’s something you haven’t thought of”. For such a statement excludes the possibility of error, that fallibility that makes us human and against which perfection is so boring.

Monday 19 July 2010

Kill the BBC

Now there’s a headline worthy of BBC Online, in that it doesn’t represent what I want to say and is designed purely for effect. No of course I don’t want to kill the BBC; it’s my inevitable knee jerk response to the obsequious #proudofthebbc hashtag currently trending on Twitter. It’s even more annoying than the #ilovethenhs tag, whose proponents bristled at any criticism of that beloved institution. It’s more annoying because whilst the NHS is undoubtedly overly bureaucratic and most definitely rations patient care, I can at least love the principle without always being enamoured of the reality.

It’s far more annoying because whilst the NHS provides an essential service I’m struggling to think of much about the BBC that could be described in the same way. Public finances are under severe pressure, Government departments are facing possible cuts of up to 40% and much of what it presents is made by external companies and would be produced irrespective of the existence of the broadcaster itself. Is the publicly funded BBC really to be immune from this reality?

Friday 16 July 2010

Some people dance

Some people spend their spare time catching up on reading for work; others use it reading for leisure. Some work around the house, if they’re able, others in the garden, if they’re willing. Then there are those who, lest they be struck by lightning, use what little time they may have, sat on a comfy sofa, moving every once in a while to change the DVD.

This time I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on a television with a working contrast and incidentally on Blu Ray. I say ‘incidentally’ because if you’re noticing things like how black the blacks are then how good can a film be? It was beautiful, intimate and terribly sad; but then it’s based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. I know I will love this film many years from now.

Much as I do Doctor Zhivago, which I watched on Tuesday for the first time in a very long time. Were it made today it would be derided by critics, as I believe it was when first released; but the public loved it – good for them. It’s a mix of stilted English and faux Russian accents and some typically gorgeous set pieces but at well over three hours it was long enough for the faults to melt away. There are “two kinds of women” says Komarovsky, and I once briefly wondered if that was the message, but really it’s about two kinds of love. In the past I was never convinced by the passion for Lara, preferring the selfless love of Zhivago’s wife, Tonya. I’m still not, but it was easier to love the right things back then.

Some people love, some question, others live for the thrill. Some change the DVD. It would be churlish to say I didn’t enjoy Avatar, I’ll be happy to watch it again, I’m sure I’d enjoy the 3-D experience should it be re-shown in the cinema and I may even take my daughter. Because ultimately it’s a fair ground ride or a fast food ‘treat’ and there’s nothing wrong with this except that it’s also deluded, perhaps even dishonest. I can forgive the occasionally crap dialogue and the lazy use of a voiceover, but the none-too-subtle environmental message was opportunistic, lacking any sincerity. I don’t mind eating a burger - but it really pisses me off when someone tells me it’s a steak.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

In bed with JavaScript

Option A.
If only I’d had more time I could have given my daughter that holiday, mowed the lawn, cleared out the garage, read that JavaScript book… when you’re as ill as I was last week you start making all sorts of rash promises. The JavaScript pledge came not only as a result of my near death experience, but my tinkering with the blog and the acceptance that fun though it can be, “try it and see” isn’t always the most effective way to learn.

Option B.
I’ve been playing around with a “Tweet this” function for a while and plugged in Tweetmeme, though I’d looked at Topsy and for a short while implemented Blogger’s own share buttons. Being me, despite everything working fine as it was I decided to change it all around and spent an age “rolling my own”. Hence the thought that tucked away on my shelf were a few books that might explain what it was I was playing with.

But do I start on these or after a month-long cessation of hostilities resume the war on Troy? Having started as a challenge it was proving to be a really good read until I managed to distract myself with work. It’s early in the story; Paris has been rescued from death at the hands of Menelaus and spirited away to have his way with Helen, whilst the armies give battle outside the walls of the city. So it’s a choice between thousands who live or die at the whim of the Gods, or one developer who will live or die at the whim of JavaScript. Maybe I’m overselling it?